Mad for Love
I was pleased to learn that Elizabeth Essex would be publishing a new series of historical romances, as I’ve enjoyed her work in the past and have missed seeing her name on lists of forthcoming releases. Her new, Highland Brides series kicks off with Mad for Love which is either a short novel or a long novella – depending how you want to look at it – and which, she tells us in her notes, is one of the first things she ever wrote.
It’s an enjoyable ‘caper’ story set in London at the end of the eighteenth century featuring mistaken identity, forgery, theft, a mischievous, quick witted hero and an intelligent heroine who is prepared to risk all in order to save the father she loves.
It’s 1790 and Mignon du Blois and her father, who styles himself the Comte du Blois (although the title is not rightfully his because he descends from a younger son) have recently settled in England having fled the worsening hatred and violence towards aristocratic families that is sweeping across France. They have lost much, but Mignon is happy in London and hopes, eventually, to lead an unexciting and respectable English life. Unfortunately, however, her father is not helping her towards that end as he uses his prodigious artistic talents to make very clever forgeries of the many famous works of art that are now being looted or destroyed in France, and sells them for large sums of money. With things there so uncertain, and the market being flooded with art for sale – much of it from once wealthy families desperate to capitalise on their assets – it’s a situation that can’t but work to his advantage.
But Mignon’s father is not the only forger in the family. Her grandfather was just as skilled, and in fact, it is his copy of a famous sculpture of the goddess Diana that threatens to stir up all kinds of trouble. The comte is persuaded to loan the statue to the Royal Academy for an exhibition without realising that it is going to have to be authenticated, and by the time he does realise, it’s too late, and Mignon fears that he will be exposed and they will have to flee the country.
Rory Cathcart is the illegitimate son of an earl who acknowledged him and gave him a good education which culminated in his studying art at University in Edinburgh. At the beginning of the story, we meet Rory and three of his friends (who I’m assuming will feature in the other books in the series), and I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie the author has created between them. Rory’s knowledge of art, his good eye and methodical attention to detail enabled him to establish that his father had been duped into purchasing two very old, well-made forgeries. As a result Rory made a name for himself as something of an expert in the field, and has recently been called in by the president of the Royal Academy to authenticate the statue of Diana.
He has also been alerted to the fact that there are a number of forged Old Masters being made available for sale, but the only way he is going to be able to examine one of them is to break into the home of the suspected forger. Ascertaining that the house will be empty one evening, Rory does just that – only to be confronted by a petite but spectacularly lovely young woman who threatens him with an ancient halberd and ends up accidentally hitting him over the head with it.
A thief is just what Mignon needs. If she can hire someone to ‘remove’ the statue of Diana from the exhibition, her father will be safe, and they won’t have to run. Of course, it’s not difficult to predict what’s going to happen, but the story is no less enjoyable for that. It’s a fast-paced quick read that simply sparkles; the writing is deft and humorous, the central characters are both very attractive and even the heroine’s father is a bit of a wag with a twinkle in his eye.
But as with most novellas, it’s all a little bit ‘undercooked’. The premise is good, the characters are engaging and there’s some excellent dialogue, but the romance happens at the speed of light – apart from the entire chapter or two Rory and Mignon have to spend locked in a broom-cupboard while they wait for the right moment to steal the statue! The first half is perhaps better than the second, but overall Mad for Love is a light, frothy read that is a pleasant way to pass an hour or two, and I’m going to be checking out the first full length novel, Mad About the Marquess on the strength of it.